Tuesday, June 30, 2009
There will undoubtedly be political struggles ahead, but for one gay activist, meeting with President Obama on the anniversary of Stonewall was a deeply emotional event.
The last time I got as close to the White House as I did this week was many years ago—six years after the Stonewall riots, when I was a 13-year-old National Spelling Bee participant from St. Margaret's School in Lowell, Mass. We spelling bee kids didn't make it into the White House that day—we stood outside as first lady Betty Ford spoke to us from a balcony. By then I already knew I was gay. Raised in a staunch Catholic home and taught (and tormented) by nuns, I was certain that an open homosexual (that was the only term I knew back then) could never be allowed inside the White House. I knew nothing of the nascent gay-rights movement—it hadn't reached Lowell in 1975. All I knew was that that whatever words there were to describe what I was, it would have to be suppressed forever. I assumed that I would have to either become a priest or figure out some other way to hide.
Thankfully, time marched on, and I eventually became a politicized college student rather than a candidate for the priesthood—and ultimately I kicked open my closet door and came out. But I can't help thinking about that personal history as I replay the reel of yesterday's visit to the White House in my head. As the executive director of SAGE, an advocacy group for LGBT senior citizens, I was invited, along with some 200 other LGBT leaders, to join the Obamas in commemorating gay pride—which falls this year on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
I was accompanied by three SAGE members: a lesbian couple who are 86 and 91, who reminisced about voting for FDR and described Barack Obama as "the most inspiring politician since Adlai Stevenson," and a Stonewall veteran and founder of the Gay Liberation Front, an activist group formed in the aftermath, who proudly chose his SAGE T shirt over the ties worn by every other man in the room.
Apart from celebrating, we had gone to the White House to make a point: that older people have to be included in the Obama agenda for LGBT progress. And we did what we came to do, with one of our members (the Stonewall vet) even receiving a personal meeting with the president and Mrs. Obama. But as I stood with my partner, in the front row, some five feet from the presidential podium, I realized how intensely personal this experience was for me. I thought about how each member of the SAGE contingent has had our own life's journey—and each of us was moved deeply and differently by that moment.
For me, standing in the East Room listening to the president was emotional in a way I had not imagined—not because of any new promises but because of an overwhelming sense of the long road we have traveled. What struck me repeatedly was the fact that 30 years after I first came to the White House as a Catholic-grade-school student who couldn't imagine life as a gay man, I was standing a few feet from a president who was declaring the LGBT struggle to be his. He reminded us that 40 years ago nobody could have imagined that we—or he—would be standing in that room. He promised we would see the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," of DOMA, the enactment of a federal LGBT rights bill and hate-crimes legislation, and he talked about lesbian couples and LGBT high-school students as though they were his family.
None of this means our work as advocates is done—or that we should be satisfied with progress to date. We have so much more to do, especially at the federal level, where we are still treated like second-class citizens. SAGE's constituents, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, don't have time to wait. Today we will return to that reality, and the relentless push for change will start all over again. But as I write this, the night of our meeting, I'm letting myself remember that there was a time when 12-year-old gay kids couldn't imagine anything but shame. And I'm reminded, as I think back on listening to our first African-American president declare his commitment to LGBT equality, that we have indeed changed the world. Come what may tomorrow, that's a wonderful feeling to end the day with.
Michael Adams is the executive director of the New York-based Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders, or SAGE , the nation's oldest LGBT senior network.
June 30, 2009
SAGE was thrilled to participate in the White House Pride Reception on June 29th with President and Mrs. Obama. Beautifully representing older adults of LGBT community, SAGE members Renee Rosenfield, 91, and Madelin Alk, 86, were seated in the front row during the President’s speech, only a few feet from the podium. Their presence highlighted that older people need to be included in plans for LGBT progress.
SAGE member Jerry Hoose, a Stonewall veteran and founder of the Gay Liberation Front (an activist group formed in its aftermath), had a personal meeting with President and Mrs. Obama, where he explained why the issues LGBT seniors face are so important and need attention now. Michael Adams, SAGE Executive Director, writes about the impact of this moving event on Newsweek.com: A Long Road Traveled Happy Pride! For more information, please visit us at www.sageusa.org
GROUP PETITIONS TO EXPAND 1964 CIVIL RIGHTS ACT TO INCLUDE LGBT
This morning, a press conference was held outside New York's historic Stonewall Inn by grassroots online group The Power announcing its LGBT Civil Rights campaign for full equality. At the presser, the group presented U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler with a signed petition for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include LBGT status.
Updated: Statements by prominent leaders, AFTER THE JUMP...
The group writes: "As President Obama prepares to host a cocktail reception at the White House for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender leaders, prominent activists and fundraisers return to the Stonewall Inn on the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots to announce a new comprehensive LGBT civil rights agenda. At that time they will also present U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler with signed petitions from all 50 states and 36 countries supporting expansion of the Civil Rights Act to include LGBT people, marking the official launch of The Power’s nationwide petition drive and campaign demanding full equality now."
The petition will be accompanied by statements of support from prominent lawmakers and LGBT leaders. A list, is AFTER THE JUMP...
The petition is accompanied by statements of support from Liz Abzug, national public affairs consultant and civil rights lawyer and urban studies professor at Barnard College–Columbia University, U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Sharon Kleinbaum, senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York City, U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Melissa Sklarz, the director of New York Trans Rights Organization (NYTRO), Barbra “Babs” Casbar Siperstein, the director the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of N.J. (GRAANJ), U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), The Rev. Dr. Mel White, Founder, Soulforce and author of Stranger at the Gate: To be Gay and Christian in America., Mandy Carter, an African-American lesbian activist and consultant. Co-Founder of the National Black Justice Coalition.
RESPONSES FROM PROMINENT LEADERS ThePowerOnline.org petition drive seeks to expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include LGBT Americans. It has sparked positive responses from prominent elected and LGBT leadership: “Discrimination against LGBT Americans is the last legally and socially accepted form of discrimination in this country. This is an abomination and cannot continue. We will never be a fully democratic, fully humane, fully just nation of laws until all of our citizens—whether gay, straight, transgendered, black, white, Asian or otherwise—are granted full civil rights and equality before the law.”
—U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D–N.Y.). “Extending the enforcement powers of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to cover LGBT Americans is absolutely the strongest and most fundamental way to protect our civil rights—this is so long overdue! My mother, former Congresswoman Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), was the first person to introduce a bill (The Equality Rights Act) in Congress to do this, way back in 1974,” Abzug continued. “It is simple: We must demand and finally achieve this expansion to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 now!”
—Liz Abzug, national public affairs consultant and civil rights lawyer and urban studies professor at Barnard Colleg–Columbia University “Dr. Martin Luther King once declared the ‘fierce urgency of now,’ which this president has invoked throughout his campaign and his administration has reclaimed again and again, But lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans continue to face discrimination under the law. The urgency IS now. This is not an issue of states deciding for themselves. This issue is for equality and justice for all Americans, including those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.”
—Sharon Kleinbaum, senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York City “I am proud to support the effort to expand federal civil rights law to include sexual orientation as a protected category in areas such as housing and public accommodations. Equal rights do not stop at the workplace door, and it is high time that the principle of equality was extended to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender persons in every aspect of our society and our laws.”
—U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) “We would like to thank the Civil Rights Project and the The Power for this moment. Transgender identity is not covered in court by sexual orientation, not in 1974 and not today. Trans people lose case after case as lawyers easily prove that changing gender identity is different than being gay and not protected. Simple additional language to the Civil Rights Bill can ensure that all Americans are legally protected in America, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
—Melissa Sklarz, the director of New York Trans Rights Organization (NYTRO) “I congratulate ThePoweronline.org for their efforts in expanding the Civil Rights Act to include all LGBT people. In 2007 we saw our community come together to fight against the divisive actions of some in the Beltway. We can work together, we can do more! The seeds for a new paradigm were planted and now focusing on this Act, while we make sure to take care of the matters at hand, extends our reach and our goals for true, meaningful, and comprehensive equality!”
—Barbra “Babs” Casbar Siperstein, the director the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of N.J. (GRAANJ) “It’s time to extend every basic right and freedom to each and every member of America’s LGBT community. In 2009, it is unconscionable that gay and lesbian couples are held back from pursuing all of their dreams. The direction that our history is moving in is clear – it’s time our policies caught up with it. I look forward to the day when New York and all states accept this basic principle of fairness, and I pledge my commitment to getting it done, and that’s why I’m proud to support this petition.”
—U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Bhubaneswar, June 27: Arjun (name changed), a resident of Bhubaneswar, was denied treatment by a doctor at a government hospital for a sexually transmitted infection. When a support group for sexual minorities put pressure on the doctor, he intentionally humiliated Arjun by doing the check-up in front of other patients. A traumatised Arjun never returned to the hospital for treatment.
Bhubaneswar resident Meena (name changed) was thrown out of home by her family when she revealed her transgender identity. She now lives with some of her transgender (Kothi) friends.
These are not isolated cases.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other sexually marginalised people in Orissa have been living under pressure. For the first time here, these people came together for a Rainbow Pride Walk to change the way society looks at them. Sexual minorities from 10 districts of the state walked from the master canteen square to the big bazaar to draw the attention of the government and the citizens against Section 377.
Though the number of actual convictions under the section till date remains very small (only 29 between 1860 and 2000), the threat of the law looms large. Its existence allows the police to harass and threaten lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and extort money from them, said Mitali Mohanty, the training co-ordinator of Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHII).
“The beautifully sculpted temples at Konark and Khajuraho are examples of the celebration of sexual diversity in our heritage. Even medical institutions like World Health Organisation de-listed homosexuality as a mental illness in 1990,” said Mohanty.
The “rainbow” stands for diversity in gender and sexual expressions, signified by the colours of the rainbow. Each of these is equally worthy of “pride”. Many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people worldwide have adopted the rainbow as a symbol of “equality and unity in diversity”, explained Satya Sundar Mishra, another activist.
The walk began with street theatre performances and ended with public meetings and candlelight vigils. Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai will also be observing pride activities this year.
The Real Stonewall Legacy
Written by Jaclyn FriedmanFriday, 26 June 2009 07:36Waiting our turn isn't working. Asking nicely isn't working. What will work is what worked that fateful night at Stonewall.
Forty years ago, a raucous group of transvestites, queens, dykes, hustlers, and homeless queer kids gathered at their local bar in Greenwich Village: The Stonewall Inn. This wasn't a political meeting -- and contrary to the common historical narrative, they weren't leaders in the nascent gay-rights movement. (Those leaders were far too concerned with convincing the powers that were that gay Americans were "just like everyone else" to set foot inside the Stonewall.) No, this was just an average Saturday night in 1969, and the Stonewall's patrons had gathered for the same reasons that most people gather at a bar -- to dance, drink, hang out with friends, and maybe get lucky.
Then something extraordinary happened.
It wasn't the police raid. Raids were pretty average then, too, as cops made a habit of targeting gay hangouts. What was extraordinary was that, for whatever reason, on that night everyone at the bar began to fight back.
The modern LGBT-rights movement owes its existence to the heroes of Stonewall. And while much has been gained in the intervening decades, a certain crucial something has been lost. We've become a movement that will settle for anything vaguely positive that proves we exist. We put an exploitative, straight pop star on the cover of our magazines just because she sang a song called "I Kissed A Girl." We laud the media coverage of Thomas Beattie (aka “The Pregnant Man”) as some kind of victory for transgender visibility, instead of condemning it as the objectifying freak show it is.
Then there's our relationship with President Barack Obama. We cling to him like we're his abused and co-dependent boyfriend, swooning over his Pride Proclamation and endlessly pre-excusing him (He's just busy! He's waiting for his moment!) for his total inaction on our behalf. And when he hits us with a Department of Justice document defending marriage discrimination and equating homosexuality with incest, we quickly crawl back into bed with him as soon as he apologizes with a bouquet of limited benefits for federal employees and the vague possibility of hate-crimes legislation.
For years the major gay-rights organizations (and the LGBT philanthropists who fund them) have poured nearly all of their capital into the fight for marriage equality, a fight whose success will only benefit those of us lucky enough to be in long-term, romantically partnered dyads. There's nothing wrong with a little nuptial justice, but many of our leaders seem to have forgotten that even when we win marriage equality once and for all, we'll still be facing hate, violence, and perfectly legal discrimination in most other areas of our lives.
The leaders of the LGBT movement have done us a disservice for far too long by avoiding the impolitic reality that being queer is about who we love, how we have sex, and how we choose to express our bodies. Instead, they argue for our civil rights under watered-down pretenses. To hear them tell the tale, we deserve health care and an end to hate-fueled violence just because "we can't help how we're born." We deserve job protections or marriage rights because we're "just like everyone else."
In fact, we deserve all of this and more simply because it's nobody's business what we do with our bodies as long as we're not hurting anyone. Arguing otherwise forces us into a posture where we're apologizing for our own existence -- promising that we'll take up as little space as possible in exchange for whatever considerations the heterosexual majority can spare. Is it any wonder we're still struggling to overturn a policy called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?
June is pride month, and I love a flashy parade as much as the next person. But on this 40th anniversary of Stonewall, it falls to all of us to remember that the first pride event wasn't a rave -- it was a riot. And we're still living under a system that dictates whose bodies are free and whose aren't. Who gets to pursue pleasure and who's a pervert. Never mind that we're not hurting anyone. Never mind "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." In America, in 2009, LGBT bodies are still illegal, immoral, and in danger.
This must end now. We must stop waiting for opportune moments.
This Wednesday brought one hopeful sign of rebellion -- no doubt on the strength of growing frustration among grass-roots queers. Rep. Barney Frank announced that he would soon reintroduce the Employee Non-Discrimination Act in Congress (and the Human Rights Campaign has even vowed to resist stripping it of protections for trans people, like they did the last time it was introduced). What we all do next -- tomorrow, next week, and next year -- will determine whether this is a lovely but fruitless gesture or the opening salvo in a new gay revolution.
I'm not suggesting the road will be safe or easy. As we've seen over and over (most recently, in the attacks on Rachel Maddow for "nagging" and "bashing" Obama when she dared to suggest he isn't living up to his LGBT campaign promises), our so-called progressive allies will deny us as an impatient, unreasonable, radical fringe the minute we start demanding the real freedom of our bodies without apology or concession. The virulence of the Proposition 8 campaign demonstrated anew that, while many Americans may be willing to purchase "gayness" as an entertainment product, far fewer are prepared to accept us as full and equal citizens. The recent hateful acts of ideologically motivated domestic terrorism we've recently suffered as a nation are a stark reminder of the risks we face from the far right. And it's impossible to predict what new backlash may greet a groundswell of uppity queers refusing to take "wait your turn" for an answer.
But those unknown risks aren't worse than the known realities. Last year alone, almost 1,500 hate crimes were committed against LGBT citizens and organizations in this country -- and those are just the ones that were reported and believed. The forces against marriage equality use Obama's own words on the subject (it "is the union between a man and a woman") in their defense. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens across the country are regularly fired from jobs, turned away from homeless shelters, and denied health care and housing based on whom they love and how they look -- all with the blessing of state and federal laws. And the first few months of 2009 have already seen the separate suicides of three young boys who chose death over living with homophobic bullying.
Waiting our turn isn't working. Asking nicely isn't working. What will work is what worked that fateful night at Stonewall -- all of us refusing to stand down until all of our bodies, all of our loves, and all of our desires are truly free.
Jaclyn Friedman is a writer, performer, and activist. She is the editor of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape
Friday, June 26, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
National LGBT Bar Association: ‘Americans understand that employment protection is not just ethical, it is also practical’
National LGBT Bar Association: ‘Americans understand that employment protection is not just ethical, it is also practical’
Statement of the National LGBT Bar Association on the introduction of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act
Washington—The National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Bar Association applauds today’s introduction of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The introduction of ENDA shows that Congress is dedicated to making sure that all workers are safe from discrimination,” said D’Arcy Kemnitz, Executive Director of the National LGBT Bar Association. “The vast majority of Americans support workplace protections for LGBT workers, and it is long past time for federal law to reflect that reality.”
Twelve states and more than 100 local governments currently include LGBT employees in their nondiscrimination protections. Nationwide, roughly 40 percent of all American workers are covered under LGBT-inclusive laws.
“Americans understand that employment protection is not just ethical, it is also practical,” said Kemnitz. “Our members handle countless cases of workplace discrimination, and they will tell you that workers who are secure in their jobs are more productive. That is critical in today’s economy.”
As the bill moves forward, a key sticking point is likely to be the inclusion of protections based on gender identity, which involves how a person identifies with his or her gender, which may be different than their sex.
“We believe that is absolutely essential that the bill include protections for transgender employees,” said Kemnitz. “We look forward to working with legislators to preserve the bill’s strengths and fend off any efforts to derail this crucial piece of legislation.”
The National LGBT Bar Association is a national association of lawyers, judges and other legal professionals, law students, activists, and affiliate lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender legal organizations. The LGBT Bar promotes justice in and through the legal profession for the LGBT community in all its diversity.
Obama To Protect Transgender Federal Workers | On Top Magazine :: Gay & Lesbian News, Entertainment, Commentary & Travel
Monday, June 22, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Let's face it, the Obama administration bungled the politics surrounding its filing of a brief in a case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages. But the searing criticism that President Obama is getting for it borders on a blind rage that obscures some positive changes for gay men and lesbians from his administration in both style and substance.
Obama has only himself to blame for this. The first substantive comment on gay and lesbian equality since he took office was the Justice Department noxiousbrief in Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer v. United States of America, and it fueled suspicion that the president was backpedaling on his promises. It didn't have to be that way. The department could have fulfilled its obligation to defend the nation's laws without repeating ugly reasoning rooted in ignorance.
The Justice Department could have stopped with its sound argument that the case should be dismissed because the plaintiffs did not "claim to have plans to seek recognition of their . . . California marriage in another state" and they "do not suggest that they have applied for any federal benefits, much less been denied any at this point." Thus, neither an "imminent injury" nor an "injury in fact" due to DOMA has been established. The plaintiffs lack standing. Case closed. That would have been fine with gay rights groups, which viewedSmelt-Hammer as an imperfect vehicle for challenging DOMA's constitutionality. "We had no problem with DOJ getting rid of this case," one legal expert told me. "The plaintiffs didn't tell a good story."
But Justice went further. It cited a 1961 case involving incest (a marriage of an uncle to a niece that was "valid in Italy under its laws") to show that states were not bound to honor "certain marriages performed elsewhere." But more galling (to me, anyway) was the twisted assertion that DOMA didn't single out gays and lesbians for discrimination. "DOMA is rationally related to legitimate government interests and cannot fairly be described as 'born of animosity toward the class of persons affected,' " the government argued -- making a mockery of Obama's repeated assertions that DOMA is discriminatory.
The reaction was swift, and the anger hasn't subsided. Comments on the Web have ranged from disillusionment to disgust. More than a few fumed that the push for equality was being relegated to the back of the bus. And a big Democratic Party fundraiser featuring Vice President Biden scheduled for Thursday has been losing donors since the DOMA brief became public last weekend.
Frustration with the brief and with the administration's inaction so far on big issues such as overturning DOMA and the ban on gays serving openly in the military is understandable. Making Obama out to be a sworn enemy of gay and lesbian civil rights is not. On Wednesday, he signed a memorandum extending a number of benefits to the partners of gay federal employees. This was the culmination of work that began in December. For the first time, not only did a sitting president utter the acronym "LGBT," for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, but it was also the first-ever spoken recognition of transgender Americans by their president.
Obama directed all Cabinet secretaries and John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management and the highest-ranking openly gay person in the administration, to conduct a policy review within 90 days to determine where inequalities for same-sex partners could be eliminated under existing law. He threw his support behind the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which would make all the benefits that straight couples get available to partners of gay federal employees. Obama acknowledged that his directive was "only one step." He admitted that "among the steps we have not yet taken is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I believe it's discriminatory . . . and we will work with Congress to overturn it."
Under normal circumstances, all of this would have been big news in the push for gay and lesbian civil rights. Instead, it has been derided as too little, too late. As if any of this would have happened with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the White House. I'm all for holding an ally's feet to the fire. But to not recognize and celebrate victories, no matter how "small," is maddeningly shortsighted in the long march to full equality.
If gays and lesbians want big victories, such as the repeal of DOMA and the "don't ask don't tell" policy, they should focus their fire where it belongs: on Congress. Each bill will take 218 votes in the House and 60 in the Senate to reach the president's desk, and the votes aren't there yet. Saying no one is going to hand gay men and lesbians their rights, Berry told me, "We have to get out there and fight and get those votes." That won't be easy. But if last week's announcement is a sign that Obama will be vocal, persistent and public in his support, the fight can be won.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
A new drive to contain the spread of HIV/Aids in Laos is forcing officials to recognise a marginalised group - transgender men known as "katheoy". The BBC's Jill McGivering went to meet some of them in the capital, Vientiane.